Bible Quoters or Bible Readers?

I took the click bait when an article by Russell Moore found its way into my inbox. The article that got my attention was entitled, “Have Bible Quoters Replaced Bible Readers?” In the article, he refers to David Nienhuis’s book, A Concise Guide to Reading the New Testament. Speaking of the students in his college New Testament classes, Nienhuis writes that they struggle with the biblical material “because they have been trained to be Bible quoters, not Bible readers.” Nienhuis continues,

They have the capacity to recall a relevant biblical text in support of a particular doctrinal point, or in opposition to a hot spot in the cultural wars, or in hope of emotional support when times get tough. They approach the Bible as a sort of reference book, a collection of useful God-quotes that can be looked up as one would locate words in a dictionary or an entry in an encyclopedia. What they are not trained to do is to read a biblical book from beginning to end, to trace its narrative arc, to discern its main themes, and to wonder how it shapes our faith lives today.

Bible quoters, not Bible readers. That pretty much sums up the problem. And the problem with that is that the Bible is turned into sound bites and devolves into a book of platitudes rather than a story of the redemption of the world.

I found this article so timely and bring it up here because of the passage we are reflecting on this morning. Romans 10 the classic “Missionary Passage”—second only to maybe Matthew 28. When you’re a missionary on furlough and asked to preach, Romans 10 is the go to. When you’re busily raising support to leave for the field you remind the people of what Romans 10:14-15 says.

But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, how beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!

You’ve probably heard those verses used as a justification for missions and sending missionaries. We need to send people. See, the text says so. But is that what the text is saying? Is that what the text means? Don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for sending missionaries. But the question I am raising is: Have we become Bible quoters rather than Bible readers?

If we really read the Bible—if we really read Romans 10—we find that these verses are an indictment rather than a call to missionary zeal and action. As Romans 10 unfolds, “But I ask have they not heard? Indeed, they have…” (Rom. 10:18). Indeed, they have! In other words, have people been sent? Yep. Have they preached? Yep. The problem of Romans 10 is not that people need to be sent. The problem of Romans 10 is that people have been sent! And that the message has been heard! The problem of Romans 10 is that the message has not been believed. There was not a response of faith. people.

But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Rom. 10.21)

All day long! Indeed, if you know anything about the Bible you know that God sent prophet after prophet calling out to his people. He sent the Prophet, the Messiah, Jesus Christ himself only to be rejected and killed and ignored. Indeed, they have been sent. They have preached. They have been heard.

Romans 10 is often referred to as a classic missionary text. I think it might be better referred to as evidence that many of us have become Bible quoters rather than Bible readers. Let’s work hard at reading the Bible, not just (mis)quoting it!